Shame, Vulnerability and Belonging: Reconsidering Sartre’s Account of Shame

Human Studies 40 (3):421-438 (2017)
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Abstract

Through positing that our capacity for physical vulnerability is at the core of original shame, Sartre’s account in Being and Nothingness reveals shame as an essential structure of human existence. Reading Sartre’s ontological account of ‘pure shame’ alongside recent writing about shame in early child development, particularly Martha Nussbaum’s account of ‘primitive shame,’ this article will explore the inherent links between shame, the body and vulnerability, ultimately positing that our human need for belonging is the fundamental driving force behind shame, and what gives it its ontological status. In short, this article will argue that shame is not merely about a painful awareness of one’s flaws or transgressions with reference to norms and others, but about a deeper layer of relationality through our bodily vulnerability.

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